I have a couple of friends who can attest to my complete and utter lack of flair for the Spanish language. While traveling with them in Spain, they would first laugh as I read aloud from Lonely Planet about places we visited… then the laughter would quickly turn to pained impatience as they would wrestle the book from my hands to make me stop butchering the place names. So it really should not have come as a surprise when some words popped up on the screen after a perfectly good movie-length during Amores Perros. “Oh,” I thought, “Closing credits! That was a jauntily paced movie!” Turned out, I later realized, that “Daniel y Valeria” was not simply a man’s name, but the introduction to part two of three of the segments that made up the story. I realized about another hour later that “y” means “and”. Oh.
Needless to say, Amores Perros is made up of three just barely-intersecting stories of love, loss, and lots of pain. The stories are united with the backdrop of a car crash, seen from the different perspectives of the main characters. Octavio (Gael García Bernal), a young man in love with his sister-in-law, is driving the runaway car, trying to outrun some bad guys that he double-crossed in some extremely brutal underground dog fights. Valeria (Goya Toledo), Mexico’s top supermodel, is in the car that Octavio rams into. She has just moved in with her lover Daniel, a married man. And El Chivo (Emilio Echevarría), who witnesses the crash, is a homeless man, bushy white beard and wild hair, who happens to have dark past as a guerilla fighter, having dropped out of society (and his family) years earlier. And there are a lot of dogs.
Let’s talk about the dogs. Before the title of the film pops up, there is first a blunt warning on screen saying that no dogs were harmed, injured or killed in the making of this film. Curious, you think. But as soon as the film gets rolling, with the first story being about Octavio fighting his dog in these matches-to-the-death in order to earn money to run away with his love, you immediately realize the meaning of the warning. Dog lovers beware. There are dog carcasses, bleeding dogs, wounded dogs, ripped-to-shreds dogs, shot dogs, and even dogs trapped under floorboards. This is one of the goriest and most violent movies I’ve seen in awhile where humans are not the main victims.
Amores Perros is shot in that hip, edgy, shaky camera style (it might even be digital video), with a thumping Mexican rap soundtrack that fit the gritty urban realism quite well. The acting is first-rate, and the stories, looking at them as unique and separate, are all interesting and well-done. However, be prepared for a long haul. The film is two and a half hours long, and feels like it… especially to people like me who cluelessly thought the end of the first story was the end of the film. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!